Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Slightly appeased

Following the news over the weekend that the overhaul of the National Curriculum has been delayed until 2014, the DfE released yesterday two documents covering what has been done so far.

First, the Summary report of the Call for Evidence.  The Call for Evidence ran from January to April of this year, and altogether there were 5763 responses.  2359 of these were primary and secondary teachers.  81% of the 2679 respondents who completed the MFL section said that it should continue to be a National Curriculum subject.  The other points arising from the Call for Evidence and regarding MFL were:

  • learning a foreign language not only helps pupils to understand their own language more deeply, but also helps them to respect and understand other cultures around the world.
  • children in many parts of Europe begin to learn at least one foreign language at the age of 7. For England to be competitive in the European business market, it is therefore important that when young people leave school they are able to converse in at least one other language
  • GCSE must not be the sole outcome at Key Stage 4.
  • The few respondents who said that MFL should not continue to be a National Curriculum subject were mainly talking about KS1 and KS2.  In their opinion, the learning of another language takes vital time away from other subjects and is not suitable for children who are just starting to read and write English.   
  • 13% were of the opinion that pupils need to begin learning as soon as possible.
  • Children have recently made good progress in learning languages at Key Stage 2. Respondents were concerned that the work that had been done to introduce languages into primary schools would be curtailed.

The second document is the Report by the Expert Panel forthe Curriculum Review, the results of which “will be subject to further consultation and discussion”. 

The report recommends that MFL should be a Foundation subject in Key Stages 2-4, although "It is worth noting at this point that the optimum age at which to introduce modern foreign language teaching remains a contested matter that requires careful consideration of evidence; this is not yet fully resolved and we therefore present modern foreign languages in lower Key Stage as a query .... However, we do believe because of its importance that it should be included in the National Curriculum at upper Key Stage 2, which represents a change to the existing arrangements."   It adds in a footnote: “We are aware, for instance, of the arguments in favour of teaching language awareness in primary schools to avoid language choices which cannot be continued in secondary education, and the counter-proposals of those who believe that more specific capability in a language should be developed from as young an age as possible.  

Therefore it recommends compulsory MFL for Years 5-11, but maybe not for Years 3 and 4, Lower KS2.  I hope that provision is extended across KS2, as in my experience Y4 is the optimum year for language learning.  The proposed Foundation Subjects will have “refined and condensed Programmes of Study and minimal or no Attainment Targets”.  

This table is a summary of the recommendations made:

The list of aims for the recommended new curriculum is also an interesting read:

Provision should be developed to:
  1. Satisfy future economic needs for individuals and for the workforce as a whole, including the development of secure knowledge and skills in communication, literacy and mathematics and confidence in acquiring new knowledge and skills; (recognition needs to be made of the valuable contribution that MFL makes to literacy and maths.)
  2. Appreciate the national cultures, traditions and values of England and the other nations within the UK, whilst recognising diversity and encouraging responsible citizenship;
    (the Ofsted team that inspected one of my schools in September were looking for evidence of this.  Where will MFL’s intercultural understanding fit in?)
  3. Provide opportunities for participation in a  broad range of educational experiences and the acquisition of knowledge and appreciation in the arts, sciences and humanities, and of high quality academic and vocational qualifications at the end of compulsory schooling;
  4. Support personal development and empowerment so that each pupil is able to develop as a healthy, balanced and self-confident individual and fulfil their educational potential;
  5. Promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally.

So this is cautious good news for the languages community, especially at the primary end.  The previous plans to make primary languages compulsory were abandoned in April 2010, after which schools started to abandon language teaching.  The funding ceased in March 2011 causing many Primary Languages advisers to be made redundant.  In 2014, when it is intended that the new curriculum will be in place, some schools will not have taught a language for 4 years, and many local authorities will have been without the necessary support and expertise for 3 years.  It’s still going to be a long, hard slog.


  1. This is interesting.... Can I ask how you went about moving from secondary to primary teaching?

  2. I worked as a secondary Advanced Skills Teacher in MFL and the International Dimension. I specialised in KS2 languages, and so, when I decided I wanted to move to primary language teaching I already had a lot of contacts and knew all about the KS2 Framework, methodologies and so on.